Susan Scott (real name Nieves Navarro) was, for a short time in the early seventies, considered the queen of gialli thanks to a series of peculiar thrillers she appeared in lensed by her husband, the producer/director Luciano Ercoli. Eventually, the Spanish born beauty's position was usurped by Edwige Fenech, and Scott ended up having to make do with roles in "erotic" movies--including a memorable appearance in Joe D' Amato's "Emmanuelle And The Last Cannibals". Her husband's first directorial effort was the erotic-gialli "Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion". With it's light and breezy Morricone score and stylish photography, this spicy but bloodless giallo-lit featured Scott as the victim of a blackmail plot, and was typical of Ercoli's genre output in it's reliance on an unbelievably convoluted plot, fiendish red herrings and mind warping twists and turns. "Death Walks At Midnight" follows suit in that regard, but with this outing Ercoli gives us an original slant on the more traditional "psycho-killer on the lose" plot line.
Feisty Milanese fashion model Valentina (Susan Scott), agrees to take part in a bizarre experiment to test a new hallucinogenic drug. While under the influence, she has a vision of a young woman getting brutally murdered with a lethal-looking spiked glove by a strange man in a raincoat. Unknown to Valentina, the Journalist/photographer, Giovanni (Simon Andreu), who was on hand to record the experiment, actually works for a sleazy Milan based newspaper, and has no qualms about revealing her identity and printing her photograph in the paper when he reports the occurrence. After losing her job when the drug experiment comes to the attention of her fashion agency, Valentina is pleased when she receives a note asking her to attend a meeting in the apartment opposite where she lives regarding a new modelling job. When she gets there, the apartment building is empty ... apart from the man with the spiked glove from her vision! Valentina's life is saved in the nick of time when her boyfriend appears--but the killer slinks away unseen.
When Valentina goes to the police, things really start getting complicated! Naturally, neither they nor her boyfriend believe her story, and, although a girl was found murdered with a spiked glove as described by Valentina ... it wasn't the girl she saw in the vision! The killer, a drug addict called Stefano (Pietro Martellanza) was apparently apprehended ... but he also turns out not to be the man Valentina saw in the vision. Nevertheless, the man she did see continues to pursue her, as also does another strange man who tries to warn her that she is in great danger. Valentina also meets up with a woman called Verushka (Claudie Lange)--the sister of the girl who the police say was murdered--and together they pay a visit to the insane asylum where Stefano is locked-up, to try and throw more light on the situation. The plot only seems to thicken though as more and more strange characters are revealed to be somehow implicated in the torturously complex goings on, and soon, the dead bodies start piling up!
It seems that the Italian giallo can, roughly, be broken down into three main types: first of all, you have your more "serious" artistic efforts usually associated with the likes of Argento and Fulci. Films such as "Deep Red", "Don't Torture a Duckling" and Pupi Avati's "The House With The Windows That Laugh" are a few examples of this breed; they may contain plenty of absurdities in their plots but there is always an artistic vision detectable that makes such works endlessly satisfying. Secondly, you have the "trashy but fun" variety which includes such titles as "The Case of The Bloody Iris" and "Eyeball"; these have usually dated rather badly but are still entertaining in an almost camp sort of way. They are almost always delightfully politically incorrect and exuberantly exploitative, and a lot of fun as a result! The last variety is a kind of mixture of the other two. The gialli of Sergio Martino spring to mind here: "Torso" for instance is unashamedly exploitative but still carries a few artistic pretensions.
"Death Walks At Midnight" definitely belongs in the second category. The script was written by gialli veteran Ernesto Gastaldi who wrote most of Martino's best known gialli and many others such as the aforementioned "...Bloody Iris"; and like that particular film, DWAM features some outrageous seventies fashions, terribly kitsch furnishings, a hugh array of eccentric characters and a totally unfathomable plot! The intricacies and absurdities of the story-line matter not one jot though. What matters are the wonderfully staged set-pieces such as Scott being pursued by the steel-gloved assailant through a derelict apartment block, or being attacked by inmates from an insane asylum; or the hallucinogenic flashbacks of the murder scenes; not to mention the mother of all punch ups on the roof of Scott's apartment (yes -- somebody does fall off the roof! Somebody always does in just about every gialli ever made!). All of this is set to a funky jazz score by Gianni Ferrio that always perks things up whenever the film threatens to get too bogged down with complicated exposition.
The cast is decked out with many gialli regulars but special mention has to go to Luciano Rossi. He had many a small role in Spaghetti westerns and Italian thrillers in the seventies, and he has another small but memorable role her as a giggling, knife throwing hit-man (don't ask!). Most of all, what makes this particular gialli outing a joy to watch is the sassy character Scott gets to play. Unlike most women in Italian thrillers from the seventies, she gives as good as she gets! Throwing bricks through windows, taking the occasional punch from murderous hit-men and dealing them out too! Through out the entire film though, she never has a hair out of place and always looks like she would be ready to appear on a catwalk at the drop of a hat! Apart from a few laborious attempts at comedy (usually involving some inept policemen) the film is a blast, and will surely satisfy any gialli addict's hunger for deranged thrills.
Another strong release from Mondo Macabro then! Hopefully, with the popularity of the giallo genre at the moment, this release will give them a much needed boost (apparently their UK sales figures are not what they could be). The anamorphic transfer on this disc is quite strong with a clear image and, mostly, vivid colour. The cover states that the film is Techniscope but the aspect ratio on the actual disc looks about 1.85:1. The titles at the beginning are definitely cut off at the side of the screen though, and some of the framing occasionally looks very tight, so I'd imagine the film WAS originally shot in 2.35.1. The audio options include a choice of English and French language tracks. Although the cover states that English subtitles are provided this doesn't seem to be the case. The English dub is adequate though and although there are a few glitches and drop outs here and there, they're not bad enough to be a major issue.
There are some nice extras included on the disc: first of all we get a featurette which includes a personal appreciation of the giallo genre by Adrian Smith--author of "Blood and Black Lace: the definitive guide to Italian sex and horror movies"; next we have a good selection of informative cast and crew filmographies; and, finally, we get an interesting text based interview with Susan Scott and Luciano Ercoli.